Yes, it snows in the ocean. Not quite the same way as it does on land, but it does happen and it comes from above. As you go deeper into the northern hemisphere, the likelihood of it snowing in the ocean increases. Ocean snow is made up of several particles like marine animal feces, decaying animals and other organic matter that settles on the ocean floor. Other particles include zooplankton pieces like jellyfish tentacles, gelatinous houses of tunicates and feeding structures of marine species like pteropod and sea butterflies. According to NOAA’s National Ocean Service website, thick ooze covers 75% of the ocean bed.
As these decaying materials and waste products slowly reach the ocean floor, they start to look like white snow-flakes. Their size increases as more and more of these products accumulate, some with diameters that are as big as several centimeters. This phenomenon doesn’t occur overnight; the flakes may fall for several weeks until they reach the ocean bed.
This constant rain of marine snow also serves as a food source for many ocean animals. These animals filter the snow in dark places or scavenge it from the ocean floor, that’s because the snow is rich in carbon and nitrogen which can feed many scavengers in the sea. Any part of the snow that isn’t used becomes part of the thick ooze that lies on the ocean bed.
If we were to break down the composition of marine snow, we’d find things like decayed remains of dead animals, plankton mucus and feces, etc. As mentioned before, these individual particles can be a food source for many deep sea animals. These species might not have a clear access to nutrients and use these particles to get their share of nutrients.
The marine snow also plays a much more important role for us, which is its contribution in the carbon cycle. Phytoplankton are single-celled plants that use photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into organic carbon and store it in their body. The carbon may also become part of shells that are made of calcium carbonate, coral shells, for instance. When the phytoplankton dies, the carbon becomes part of the ocean snow—as remains of the plankton or fecal waste of the animals that consumed the plankton. As the particles eventually settle on the ocean bed, the CO2is stored with them. Resultantly, the CO2 concentration from the planet’s atmosphere reduces, thus reducing the risk of ocean acidification.
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At first glance, jellyfish look like empty bags floating through the ocean. Their clear, gelatinous bodies have no heart or brain; to most people, the only thing worth noting about jellyfish is their ability to sting you.
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